Lindy's picks the Cougs to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North behind — in order — Stanford, Washington and Oregon, but in the same breath states that the Cougs are a top 25 team that “will be right there” in a fascinating North battle.
The biggest thing going for the Cougs is Luke Falk, whom they dub the conference’s top quarterback.
The bad news, they write, are WSU’s “significant losses on the defensive line (i.e. Destiny Vaeao and Darryl Paulo).”
And yet the outlook in the defensive trenches brightens with the return of rising sophomore defensive end Hecules Mata’afa (pictured above). He earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season while playing part time. Lindy's pegs him the best pass rusher in the conference for 2016.
The bottom line on the 2016 Cougar, in Lindy’s eyes, is this:
“Cougar fans can start saving up for another bowl trip — just how big a bowl depends on how they account for some departures on defense, and if they can come up just as clutch in the fourth quarter as a year ago. Boise State is a pivotal non-conference game, and an Oct. 8 showdown at Stanford should give a good read on the Cougars.”
In addition, Lindy's says, "the Cougars’ physicality — size and speed — is finally up to Pac-12 standards.”
Here’s what else Lindy’s had to say:
- Receiver Gabe Marks is an All-American (they slot him for second-team honors) and the owner of the best hands in the Pac-12.
- Falk and Marks are first-team all-conference choices.
- Mata’afa, receiver River Cracraft and linebacker Peyton Pelluer are second-team All-Pac-12 picks, and center Riley Sorenson, offensive lineman Cole Madison and safety Shalom Luani are third-team selections.
- WSU’s top newcomer will be safety Jalen Thompson, a freshman who enrolled in January and showed in spring ball that he has the aptitude and hitting chops to make an immediate mark.
- “The case could be made that Alex Grinch’s arrival as (defensive) coordinator made him MVP of the Cougars’ 9-4 season …”
- USC will win the Pac-12 South.